The ceremony for recipients of the National Humanities Medal and the National Medal for the Arts was held in the East Room of the White House. President and Mrs. Bush ran the show. I knew that I would have only a few seconds contact with GWB on the podium, so I wore a pair of boots as a topic of conversation. “Like your boots,” he said. “They’re Libertys,” I said. He nodded, as any son of the Lone Star State would.
I had the pleasure of meeting Oliva de Havilland, who received the Arts Medal. It was a little disconcerting to talk to Melanie Wilkes. During the brief orientation when we were told how to go up to the podium, she asked to go through it once; she told me later that three run-throughs are always best: the first breaks the ice, in the second you get used to it, and by the third it comes naturally. Even with one, she got a standing ovation.
I came home on the Acela in the same car with another Humanities medallist, Myron Magnet, former editor of City Journal. We flashed our lapel pins at each other like Masons, or secret agents.